Protesters demonstrate in Montreal against the use of electric shock therapy in psychiatry
Demonstrators rallied in Montreal Saturday to denounce the use of electric shock therapy, also known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), to treat psychiatric disorders.
The treatment, as described by the Mayo Clinic, involves sending small electric currents through the brain to trigger a brief seizure and change the patient’s brain chemistry. It is a procedure which is done under general anesthesia.
Pare-chocs, the group organizing the protest, is calling for an end to the practice.
In Quebec, the group contends that 11,000 ECT treatments were administered in 2017, up by 1,000 over the previous year.
But more worrisome is the uneven distribution of treatments across the province.
Pare-choc says that only six institutions are responsible for over half of all treatments administered in Quebec, and that the frequency of treatments also varies.
At the Shawinigan Hospital for example, Pare-Chocs says a patient will receive on average 24 ECT treatments a year, while at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Arthabaska, the average is 10.
Activists say treatment should be dictated by needs and not geography.
“We see that the rates in different places in Quebec are going up and we are against electroshock because it causes potential damage to the brain,” said Céline Cyr, a Pare-chocs activist. “We have other things that work well without causing damage, so we are here to denounce that situation.”
Another disturbing trend is that women receive more treatments.
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According to Pares-choc, of the 700 to 800 people undergoing ECT in the province, women account for 67 per cent of treatments administered.
“We want the alternatives to be in place and to stop electroshocking our mothers and grandmothers,” Cyr said, adding it’s a matter that concerns us all.
“If you are going through a difficult time in your life, or if a family member is going through a difficult time, it could be, that if the medication is not working, very quickly they could propose electroshock,” she said. “It’s running electricity through people’s brains to cause convulsions. We’re not supposed to do that to people.”
Pare-chocs has been organizing protests annually for 12 years, but says more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable.
Similar protests are being held in various cities, including Toronto and Victoria, as well as overseas in Ireland and Korea.
Proponents of ECT argue that it is a misunderstood treatment.
“Much of the stigma attached to ECT is based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones and other serious side effects,” the Mayo Clinic states on its website.
CAHM, Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital, says the treatment is usually used as a last resort and that it is “safe and effective for treating severe depression when patients have symptoms that haven’t responded to medication.”
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